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Montreal homeless shelters ask for help as COVID-19 cases surge

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: COVID-19 infection rate climbs among Montreal’s homeless' Coronavirus: COVID-19 infection rate climbs among Montreal’s homeless
WATCH: Coronavirus: COVID-19 infection rate climbs among Montreal's homeless – Jan 3, 2021

Homeless community workers in Montreal say they are worried about staffing shortages as COVID-19 cases surge among its population.

Resilience Montreal shelter has been closed since Dec. 17 so that its staff could take a break after being swamped for weeks helping members of the city’s homeless population.

Nakuset, director of Resilience Montreal, told Global News the shelter is unsure how to greet people on Monday when the establishment reopens.

Quebec ushered in the new year by reporting more than 7,600 new COVID-19 cases over a three-day period, prompting the province’s health minister to sound the alarm about the toll soaring infection and hospitalization rates are taking on the health-care system.

Sam Watts, director of the Welcome Hall Mission in Saint-Henri, says the number of COVID-19 infected people the shelter has seen has increased rapidly.

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“The number of infected people, which seemed to have been steady at around 5-8, has jumped up to 25 in a very short period of time,” Watts said.

READ MORE: Quebec reports over 7,600 new COVID-19 cases, 121 more deaths since Thursday

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Last week, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced plans to use a part of the old Royal Victoria Hospital to house COVID-19 positive homeless people who don’t need hospitalization.

Dubé said a whole floor of the old hospital will be used as a red zone.

Health officials said the Royal Victoria’s red zone will be able to accommodate about 100 people.

Nakuset, however, said 10 people who use the Resilience Montreal shelter have tested positive for COVID-19 since Dec. 31. She said they don’t yet know their results and have been potentially spreading the virus.

Nakuset said organizations don’t always know the identities of the people who frequent the establishments so the shelter will have to further restrict services to protect staff — who they say are already stretched thin.

Marina Boulos, director of Chez Doris shelter for women downtown, said shelters are dealing with a shortage of workers “because [many people] on staff are either infected or have to quarantine because they were next to someone who was infected.”
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Boulos says four staff members are off duty because they are home due to the virus.

At least a portion of the red zone at the old Royal Victoria Hospital is to be reserved for the indigenous homeless population. Nakuset says staffing is however equally a problem there — employees from other shelters are being asked to volunteer at the hospital.

“Putting someone into a red zone is like putting someone into a fire and will also further stretch the resources at the shelters,” Nakuset said. “The army came and helped at senior homes. Why isn’t that happening [here]?”

Global News was unable to reach Montreal public health for comment.

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